The mission of Civic Links is to increase the economic mobility of low-income families. We do this by partnering with nonprofits to provide technology solutions to these families. Our app-based products help low-income families manage and maximize their government safety net benefits. In turn, our products help nonprofits serve more families in their communities.
Our previous experiences working in the nonprofit sector highlighted how individuals struggle to navigate major government systems despite the efforts of dedicated social service workers and public sector employees. Government safety net benefits are intended to support families on a path to economic prosperity. Yet structural barriers and unending bureaucracy often means that individuals are unable to access and maintain the services they need. When it is almost impossibly difficult to access essential government safety net benefits, how are the lowest resourced families able to get by?
How does the single mom decide between paying her utility bill and feeding her children? How can the two parents, laid off due to COVID-19, ensure their children have resources for remote learning and also search for new jobs? Where does the family with limited English proficiency go when they can’t find services in their language?
The reality is that families who need help the most are the least likely to get it. It’s a frustrating reality, but we believe there is reason for hope. Technology products can be built to better serve the families that need these safety net benefits.
So far, technology in the safety net benefits space has focused on maximizing the efficiency of public benefits systems. The user in most cases is, first and foremost, the government. Much of the technology developed to date collects extensive information about the low-income families seeking these benefits and then categorizes outcomes and needs based on this information. We are taking a different approach.
At Civic Links, we build products specifically for the recipients of safety net benefits. Our products allow low-income families to explore options and resources and utilize tools for self-advocacy without entering anything into a government system.
This space is underdeveloped and we believe there are significant opportunities to create high impact technology-based tools that enable families in need to get help faster. We think nonprofits serving low income families are the perfect partner in this work. They are on the front lines supporting families in need, and we can help them amplify their impact.
In April 2020, the federal government announced that they would be sending $1,200 Economic Impact Payments (a.k.a. stimulus checks) in response to the economic impacts of COVID-19. Realizing that many low-income families do not file tax returns with the IRS, we built a simple quiz-based tool to help these individuals provide their information to the government and access their payment. The results were astounding. In 3 months, 100,000 users accessed the tool and about 10% of individuals who took the quiz qualified as non-filers and clicked through to the IRS site. Conservatively assuming a third of those people completed and submitted the non-filers form, Civic Links enabled nearly $4 million in benefits to reach our target population.
Building on the success of the Economic Impact Payment eligibility tool, we created another tool that allowed individuals to easily recertify their unemployment. With unemployment claims spiking in April and May, in places like New York, tens of thousands of individuals were forgetting to certify their benefits on a weekly basis. We built an SMS reminder tool, tailored to the user’s state and recertification day. Now, we have over 2,000 individuals in 45 different states receiving weekly reminders to claim their benefits, at a time when these benefits are more important than ever.
We are excited to begin partnering with nonprofits to bring user-centered technology to recipients of government safety net services. We are focused on working with nonprofits to bring our next product, Spring Link, to low-income families. Spring Link is an app-based product that allows families receiving Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) to understand, manage, and maximize their aid. Users can track their time on benefits, receive notifications about upcoming requirements, track communications with government workers, and receive personalized suggestions about additional aid that may be available based on their specific circumstances including homelessness, pregnancy or domestic violence. We believe it is critical to invest in technology for families living in poverty. An already strained safety net pre-COVID-19 now must face a huge increase in family poverty. 1 in 3 adults had trouble paying for household expenses in the last seven days and job losses have been highest in the lowest paying industries.
We are looking for great partners in this work. If you know nonprofits that serve low-income families, we would love to connect. And, if you or anyone you know is looking to build technology for low-resourced communities, we would love to meet!
We are grateful for the no-code tech products that have made it possible to build Civic Links: Webflow, Bubble, Figma, Airtable, and Integromat.
Special thanks also to the many individuals who have already provided so much inspiration, wisdom, insight, and feedback: Monica Varman, Tyler Jessop, Carole Trone, Caroline Caselli, Michele Rimando, Tommy Szalasny, Lizzy Reed, Griffin Gaffney, Kanishka Cheng, Lian Cimet, and the entire DivInc Team & Family.